In previous blogs, I’ve mentioned the “can do” attitudes I see from teachers across the country. Nicole Bower of Chalmette, LA certainly exemplifies this spirit.
Nicole teaches 8th grade English Language Arts at Andrew Jackson Middle School in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She serves on the district’s Common Core State Standard transition team that is designing new curriculum units and finding resources and supports for teachers that are aligned to the new standards. Nicole is also her district’s Teacher of the Year selected by peers for her leadership and involvement in her school, extracurricular activities and the community.
Notably, Nicole is just in her second year of teaching.
Nicole’s enthusiasm for her new career and her professional growth shines through as she reflects on her teaching and students. “I’m already seeing changes in my teaching from last year to this year, thanks to the Common Core and support from my colleagues,” Nicole told our team. “I’m shifting the types of writing students are doing. Last year, I tended to have students do opinion prompts without requiring them to back up their opinions. Now, we are focusing on text-based writing and increasing the rigor of texts students read. I’m seeing huge changes in what students can do and the depth of conversations students are having about the books we are reading. For example, my classes just finished George Orwell’s Why I Write and students were discussing the notion of “aesthetic enthusiasm” in Socratic Seminars. I could not believe the discussions I heard.”
Nicole and her fellow English teachers are bringing together various resources to support their move to the new CCSS. They are using Springboard by College Board as a common curriculum and integrating instructional strategies for close reading, Socratic seminars, extended responses and A-E-C (Assertion-Evidence-Commentary) writing strategies that help students learn to build and present an analysis. As part of a district-wide initiative, Nicole is also implementing the Literacy Design Collaborative framework in her class this year—using a module adopted from another teacher in the fall and designing her own for the winter and spring.
To make these shifts in their practice, the English teachers at A.J. Middle School work together extensively. Nicole tells us that they meet weekly with their instructional coach and middle school curriculum coordinator, as well as participate in “as many English teacher meetings as possible.”
If you look at the recent history of St. Bernard Parish schools, this commitment from Nicole and her colleagues is not surprising. Formerly a district of 8,000 students, St. Bernard Parish dropped to no more than 300 students after Hurricane Katrina. 90% of the buildings in the Parish were underwater as a result of the storm. During the storm, its high school served as a shelter for 1,500 people for 5 days straight before emergency workers arrived.
Within only a few months of the catastrophe, however, school administrators and teachers had the district up and running. Today, the district serves 3,000 students and continues to grow. And, because of teachers like Nicole, I believe it will be better than ever. We are so proud to be a partner in St. Bernard Parish’s work.